Govt. rent deferment is just a loan – says Cooper

Govt. rent deferment is just a loan – says Cooper
Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper makes a contribution during an earlier sitting of Parliament. (Keval Williams/EWN)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS —Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper yesterday raked the government’s rental assistance plan, telling Parliament it appeared officials were “trying as hard as possible to spend as little as possible”.

Cooper said it was “doubtful” the plan released yesterday is workable.

“A deferment is basically a loan,” he continued.

“It seems as if the government is trying as hard as possible to spend as little as possible. This government is, in essence, not lifting a finger to provide rental assistance. There are more hurdles to jump through for people who are weary of these processes to receive any form of aid. Residential rental assistance should be provided by the government in monetary form.” 

Cooper said: “My suggestion would be a disbursement of up to $500 for those Bahamian citizens paying residential rent who are laid off or unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Renters should be asked to provide proof of job or income loss and a copy of their lease.This could cost the government up to $15 million, but it would provide a lifeline for many people.

“The Bahamian people are proud people.”

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis unveiled a rental assistance program that allows individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to have 40 percent of their rent deferred for three months.

The program is limited to residential rentals only, and individuals whose employment or income have been affected by COVID-19, and renters must be up to date with their rental payments prior to April to be eligible for relief.

Eligible renters will have 12 months to pay back deferred rent.

Cooper also noted that the Opposition had not been asked for a recommendation to serve on the Economic Recovery Committee. 

“I note that the committee also has no small business representation, no disability affairs representation, no one from the church, no light manufacturing representation and no representation of the construction or agriculture of fisheries sectors,” Cooper continued.

“This is not how we should approach this.We need a real national plan. The National Development Plan is an ideal way to start. We should build upon all of the work already done in the previous administration.”

Regarding food assistance, Cooper said that too many are still falling through the cracks.

“A committee will not put food on their table tonight. Too many are still going to bed hungry as they wait for the go ahead to return to work, in cases where they still have a job.Food assistance is woefully lacking. People are hungry now. They need to feed their families now. They do not have the luxury of waiting on the recommendations of a committee.” 

Cooper added: “It would make good sense to funnel money for food assistance directly to apolitical community food banks, NGO’s, churches and civil society organizations that want to help as they did in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.”